By Ronan Alexander
ONE of the most fiercely anticipated Scottish derbies takes place tomorrow as Auchinleck Talbot clash with Cumnock Juniors at Beechwood Park in the Ardagh West of Scotland Cup.
Separated only one-and-a-half miles apart, there’s much more than local bragging rights at stake in Auchinleck tomorrow.
Talbot are going through one of the most exciting periods in the club’s recent history with the derby on Saturday before a Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie with Ayr United in front of BBC cameras next weekend.
‘The Bot’ midfielder Mark Shankland recently returned from injury, making his first appearance since October in last Saturday’s victory over Irvine Meadow XI. The comeback from his spell on the sidelines couldn’t have come at a better time with an exciting few weeks coming up.
He said: “There’s definitely a real buzz about the place especially with the game next week but tomorrow is the most important although you can’t help but think of next week because of the occasion.
“Ayr at home in the Scottish Cup will probably never happen again for a long long time and with it being on TV as well.”
However, tomorrow’s second round tie in the West of Scotland Cup is the priority for Talbot just now, a derby he has close ties with after watching games against Cumnock when growing up.
The former Scotland Under-17 cap said: “When watching, I’d always wondered what it would be like to play in a game like that.
“I think it used to be a bit more heated years ago but the rivalry is still there and will never go away.
“They are good to play in, it is frantic, 100mph and everyone is scared to make a mistake.”
Talbot come into the match on a 12 game unbeaten run in all competitions and winning five consecutive games with their last defeat coming on October 6. Meanwhile, the visitors have struggled recently and have failed to win any of their last seven fixtures. However, Shankland feels form goes out the window on derby day.
He added: “Anything can happen in a game like this. We want to progress and Cumnock will want to get back to winning ways so it will not be easy. Cumnock have a point to prove and get into the next round, but it’s up to us to stop that.”
Full interview with Mark Shankland:
Despite a poor run of form, the visitors convincingly won their first round tie away to Lugar Boswell Thistle 4-0 and have been active in the transfer market in recent weeks.
The loss of striker Scott Anson who scored 16 times in 24 appearances this season made the switch to Pollock, but Cumnock have boosted their ranks with a double signing from Scottish League Two side Albion Rovers.
Attacker Graham Gracie will look to be Cumnock’s talisman after scoring three times in 14 appearances at Cliftonhill, whilst 25-year-old Alan Murdoch adds more steel in defence.
The Nock have two dangerous wingers in Dan Carmichael who boasts previous clubs such as Hibernian and Queen of the South, as well as Dean Brotherston who signed earlier in the season after impressing at Lowland League side Dalbeattie Star.
However, Talbot manager Tommy Sloan will have his plans to stop them, as he demands high expectations from his side.
Shankland said: “The manager makes it clear that he wants to win everything that we are in, but we are taking it game by game.
Sloan’s men lost 1-0 in the semi-final last season against eventual winners Hurlford United whilst Cumnock fell out in the quarter finals after a 1-0 loss to losing finalists Beith Juniors.
The game gets underway at 1:30 at Beechwood Park on Saturday.
Auchinleck – WWWWW
Cumnock – LLLDL